Taking My Hacks

Tough Cards - Tough Decisions

Joe Orlando

We see it all the time. A low population card comes up for sale and no one knows what to pay for it. What is it worth? Well, like old saying goes, its worth as much as someone will pay for it. While SMR and other price guides do their best to analyze the market, prices for these cards are virtually impossible to predict.

So, as collectors, what do we do?

In some cases, there may not be any recent sales to refer to. In other cases, there may be wild swings in the price for the very same card. Just this past fall, two low population cards of note sold for drastically different prices at auction. The cards were both graded PSA Mint 9 and, in a one month period, one sold for over $50,000 while the other sold for about $10,000.

How does this happen? Well, neither figure seems accurate. One seems way too high and the other way too low. Sometimes, two people can really pound on each other during an auction, driving the price skyward. Other times, great cards get overlooked in a sea of fine memorabilia. It's just the nature of the beast.

Even though there might not be an easy answer, here are some quick tips on how to approach cards of this nature.

1) Research, research and more research.

Do as much as you can. Sometimes, like I mentioned before, there may not be any recent sales history but collecting auction catalogues and keeping the prices realized can provide great tools for comparison. If there are no recent sales of that particular card, look for sales of comparable card in terms of rarity and popularity. It doesn't always work but at least you give yourself the best chance at understanding the value.

2) Take emotion out of the equation and use your head.

This is easier said than done because emotional involvement or passion is what drives most collectors in their pursuits but, when you are battling over a tough card, emotions can lead you down a very costly path. Most collectors have overpaid for an item here and there. There's nothing wrong with that because you cannot put a price on collector satisfaction but just try to use your head as much as you can. Is this card a low population card simply because not many have been submitted? Is this is a card that should always be in high demand? Is this card scorching hot at the moment but was it cold just a short time ago? Ask as many questions as you can before you reach into your wallet.

3) Don't hesitate if it's within range.

This is a tip coming from the opposite angle. It is important that you keep yourself under control and become an informed buyer but being too conservative can also be a problem, especially when it comes to tough cards. If an item is within your budget, even if it exceeds it slightly, don't hesitate. You will be sorry. It's one thing if a card goes way above and beyond your means but, if it's close, go for it. Truly tough items don't come around that often. In some cases, they may not come back around for a really long time and it can frustrate that most seasoned collector. Don't let the opportunity escape. Life is too short.

Hopefully, these three tips will come in handy the next time you consider buying an elusive card. It's never easy.

Never get cheated,

Joe Orlando

Joe Orlando
Editor In Chief


Joe Orlando has been an advanced collector of sportscards and memorabilia for over 25 years. Orlando attended Westmont College in Santa Barbara, California where he studied communications and was the starting catcher for the baseball team. After a brief stint in the minor leagues, Orlando obtained a Juris Doctor from Whittier Law School in Southern California in the spring of 1999. During the last fourteen years, Orlando has authored several collecting guides and dozens of articles for Collectors Universe, Inc. Orlando has also authored two books for Collectors Universe. Orlando's first book, The Top 200 Sportscards in the Hobby, was released in the summer of 2002. His second book, Collecting Sports Legends, was released in the summer of 2008. Orlando has appeared on several radio and television programs as a hobby expert including ESPN's award-winning program Outside the Lines and HBO's Real Sports, as the featured guest. Currently, Orlando is the President of PSA and PSA/DNA, the largest trading card and sports memorabilia authentication services in the hobby. He is also Editor of the company's nationally distributed Sports Market Report, which under Orlando's direction has developed into a leading resource in the market. Orlando also contributed the foreword and last chapter to The T206 Collection: The Players and Their Stories, a 2010 release, and to The Cracker Jack Collection: Baseball's Prized Players, a 2013 release.